Creative Process: Getting Started

January 15, 2013

This year Ben and I both have the goal of making more time and space for our personal artistic projects. Although I’ve been tossing a few ideas back and forth in my head, it’s been a while since I stopped and gave energy to thinking through the specifics. 

In many ways I have an easier time when I’m approached to collaborate on a project. With Meronymy, playwright Rachel Jendrezejewski had already written the script, and director Steve Busa had ideas about where to begin with movement exploration. For the dance film I made with Ben for Dances Made To Order we were given themes that needed to be included in the final project. We were also given specific parameters: made a dance film that’s under 6 minutes in two weeks. Parameters are really helpful.

Last week I set aside a chunk of time to begin working on my first small dance. And then I realized that beginning is really hard. I had to think back to beginning methods I've used in the past.

1. The buddy method. Usually creative folks either excel at initial big ideas, or the details needed to complete the idea. I’m an initial big ideas person. Ben, on the other hand, is really good at thinking through all of the steps and details once he has the big idea. Finding your creative counterpoint can be helpful for working through logistics-- or if you're trying to come up with a framework for getting started.

2. Make a list: What do I know? I start by listing ideas, people, or objects I think might be a part of the piece (obviously, a lot of these end up getting tossed out).  I also make a list of questions that I have. On my list: a couple of poems, observations from people watching, patterns, and business casual wear.

3. Parameters. I made some rules so that the blank canvas didn’t feel quite so blank. In my case, my dance needs to be portable, and performed in a space smaller than 9 feet by 22 feet. I’m trying to avoid big props-- or maybe props at all. I want the movement to be a combination of specific, repeatable  patterns and improvised moments.

4. Music. I made a playlist of music that gets my wheels turning. Usually this music doesn’t end up in the final product.

5. Moving. Sometimes my best creative work happens when I turn off my brain and tune into my body smarts. Going into a studio and thinking 'Laura, make a dance' never works. But, inspiration often strikes when I'm walking, riding my bike, or in a dance class that someone else is teaching. I'm a big fan of Gaga movement classes, because they get me moving in ways that I probably wouldn't try on my own. Generally, though, repetitive exercise is the best.

I'm interested in hearing about your starting rituals. Do you wait until inspiration strikes, or do you brainstorm? What are your creative habits? 


  1. I write every morning. Sometimes it leads to a song idea, and sometimes it leads nowhere. But…it gets my butt to the page! And if I don't bother to show up, I've found that I really stifle things on the creative end.

  2. I like Kristen do a practice from Cultural Creatives of morning pages. Sit down and let the pen go through motions until you get to the end of three pages. Flushes out the good ones, helps focus the big picture.

  3. Kristen + Jay- Yes, the morning pages are a really good place to start. I like the reminder of the importance of SHOWING UP! And, the image of flushing things out. Thanks for sharing!



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